Plan the perfect cottage garden border

Mix fragrant blowsy blooms, towering spires and frothy umbels for a cottage garden that looks good and nurtures wildlife too. Val Bourne suggests the plants to go for

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The romantic cottage garden border harks back to simpler days when a garden had to provide food, herbs, medicine and flowers in abundance. Back in those days the garden offered a solution to all sorts of ailments: if you had a headache you chewed a leaf of feverfew or achillea; toothache was soothed by sucking on a clove. Food crops, vital for family survival, jostled among easily-grown flowers and paths were lined by fragrant pinks, primroses, violets and lavender. Even the old outdoor privy, its path illuminated by snowdrops on a chilly winter’s night, had a fragrant moss rose framing the doorway.

Birds, butterflies, moths and every type of insect flitted through those old cottage gardens and in modern times it’s more important than ever to sustain wildlife. We’re trying to recreate that sort of eco-friendly buzz for nature’s sake and our own wellbeing. Watching a bee forage on a favourite flower is as close to mindfulness as it can be. It calms the soul.

We’re more fortunate today in one way, because we have a much greater choice when it comes to plants. Modern cottage gardens span the seasons, using carefully thought-out colour schemes and lots of texture. Plants are still passed around, with not a plastic pot in sight, and self seeders are encouraged, but managed. Seeds are saved from year to year in old envelopes. Herbs are snipped for the kitchen and vegetables go from plot to plate in a trice. Cottage gardeners are also more likely to recycle and turn an old wicker basket, or colander, into a container for herbs. Their plots are still flower packed affairs and nature still looks as though it could break free at any moment. The skill’s in mixing your plants together to recreate the whimsical look of times past.  

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